Wall of silence breached as bishops admit allegations against Ledwith

 

Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent, on the wall of silence that sorrounded Mgr Ledwith's departure as St Patrick's College president

Yesterday's statement from Mgr Dermot Farrell, president of St Patrick's College Maynooth, probably belongs among the more significant developments following the BBC's Suing the Pope programme last March.

The documentary dealt with the sexual abuse of teenage boys in Ferns diocese by Father Sean Fortune, and led to the resignation of Bishop Brendan Comiskey on April 1st.

It also brought about the Birmingham inquiry there, set up by the Minister for Health and Children, Mr Martin.

But the programme also prompted a flood of calls to media from people who had been sexually abused by clergy, or by the relatives of those victims.

Among the callers, letters and e-mails received at this office were quite a few concerning St Patrick's College Maynooth and Mgr Ledwith's tenure there.

When these were put to church authorities there began a merry-go-round of referrals from one church office to another as each eschewed any responsibility in the matter.

The buck generally ended at the president's office in Maynooth, from where the response was constant silence.

Though stories about why Mgr Ledwith left St Patrick's College Maynooth eight years ago have been many, all contained the same kernel of what is now confirmed as true:

• That there were sex abuse allegations involved.

• That a substantial financial settlement was made.

• That the monsignor resigned his post because of the allegations. That the 17 trustee bishops of the college were all aware of these circumstances.

• That none of them would talk about it.

None of them. Ever.

That would appear to have been the intention. Some years ago a senior bishop told this reporter he could not discuss the matter "for legal reasons".

But since Suing the Pope reports concerning Mgr Ledwith began to appear in the media. In many of them he could not be named, for legal reasons.

The church authorities, meanwhile, continued to refuse pointblank to answer media queries on the matter.

It is clear they hoped the matter would go away, and were probably convinced it had as the general election came and went with its extraordinary outcome. Then there was the World Cup and the Roy Keane saga.

But the interest did not go away and in this past week further stories concerning St Patrick's and Mgr Ledwith began to appear in the media again.

Under duress then, it has to be said, the bishop-trustees decided to come clean. And so Mgr Dermot Farrell issued a statement about the matter on their behalf.

The 17 trustee-bishops concerned - trustees of St Patrick's College, Maynooth, that is - are the four Irish Catholic Archbishops; the Catholic Primate and Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Seán Brady, Cardinal Desmond Connell Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel, and Dr Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam.

The remaining 13 bishops are trustees of the national seminary on the basis of their seniority within the Irish Bishops' Conference. They are the Bishop of Achonry, Dr Thomas Flynn; the Bishop of Clogher, Dr Joseph Duffy; the Bishop of Ossory, Dr Laurence Forristal; the Bishop of Derry, Dr Seamus Hegarty; the (former) Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey; the Bishop of Limerick, Dr Donal Murray; the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Dr Colm O'Reilly; the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh; the auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Anthony Farquhar; the Bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith; the Bishop of Cork, Dr John Buckley; the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr Laurence Ryan; and the Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Magee.

Of those 17 bishops, 11 were trustees of St Patrick's College, Maynooth, when Mgr Ledwith departed in 1994. Then, the full list of trustees included Cardinal Cahal Daly, the then Catholic Primate and Archbishop of Armagh; Cardinal Desmond Connell; Archbishop Dermot Clifford; and the then Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Joseph Cassidy.

Other senior bishops on the board in 1994 included the Bishop of Achonry, Dr Thomas Flynn; the Bishop of Clogher, Dr Joseph Duffy; the Bishop of Ossory, Dr Laurence Forristal; the Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey; the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Dr Colm O'Reilly; the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh; the Bishop of Limerick, Dr Jeremiah Newman; the Bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith; the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr Laurence Ryan; and the Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Magee.

As president of St Patrick's College Mgr Ledwith was appointed by the board of trustees, but before such an appointment can be made it must first be confirmed by the Vatican.

When he left in 1994 Mgr Ledwith said he was doing so to avoid disruption in the middle of an academic year.

He planned to take leave of absence to pursue research and writing interests, he said. It was later reported that he had gone on a fundraising trip for the college to the US.